Press-Enterprise v. Superior Court of California (II) 478 U.S. 1. (1986)
Basic Facts: In 1981, Robert Diaz, a nurse, was charged with 12 counts of murder after he allegedly gave massive overdoses of lidocaine to his patients. The case quickly garnered national media attention. At his preliminary hearing, Diaz requested that the public be excluded, based on a section of the California penal code that requires preliminary hearings to be public, except in such cases that publicity could make it impossible for the defendant to receive a fair trial. This request was granted by the Magistrate based on the fact that it had become such a media sensation. The hearing lasted 41 days, consisting mostly of medical and scientific testimony, combined with cross-examination of the witnesses testifying for the prosecution. Diaz never testified. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Press-Enterprise requested a transcript of the hearing, but they were denied on the grounds that it might result in a prejudiced trial toward Diaz. Diaz eventually waived his right to a jury trial, at which point the courts released the transcripts, but the case was still ripe for review. It was bounced back and forth between the lower courts for some time, until the California Supreme Court denied the Press-Enterprise’s lawsuit, claiming there is no First Amendment right to access of preliminary hearings. The matter eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Question: Does the media have the right to access preliminary hearings under the First Amendment?
Decision: In a 7-2 decision, the Court reversed the California Supreme Court’s (CSC) decision. The High Court agreed with the CSC’s decision that a defendant’s right to a fair trial outweighed the public’s right to access, but they believed that, in most cases, the two rights can be balanced. Their main issue with the original ruling was that it placed the burden of proof on the press to demonstrate that it would not interfere with the right to a fair trial, when it should be the other way around. Also, the CSC ruled that, since it was a preliminary hearing and not a criminal trial, it did not fall under the umbrella of the First Amendment. Here the Court disagreed, asserting that the label of the legal hearing was irrelevant. Finally, they believed that, if anything, the lack of a jury made it even more crucial for the press to have access, as it would help prevent any corruption of the process.
Ruling: Denying the transcript of a 41-day preliminary hearing would frustrate what we have characterized as the “community therapeutic value” of openness. Id., at 570. Criminal acts, especially certain violent crimes, provoke public concern, outrage, and hostility. . . We therefore conclude that the qualified First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings applies to preliminary hearings as they are conducted in California.
—JUSTICE BURGER, OPINION OF THE COURT
By taking its own verbal formulation seriously, the Court reverses–without comment or explanation or any attempt at reconciliation–the holding in Gannett that a “reasonable probability of prejudice” is enough to overcome the First Amendment right of access to a preliminary proceeding. It is unfortunate that the Court neglects this opportunity to fit the result in this case into the body of precedent dealing with access rights generally. I fear that today’s decision will simply further unsettle the law in this area.
–JUSTICE STEVENS, JOINED BY REHNQUIST, IN DISSENT
Basic Facts: William James Sidis, who graduated from Harvard University when he was only 16 years old, was considered one of the most notable children at the time. He was also widely known as a distinguished mathematician. Sidis was best known as a young adult for all of his accomplishments as a youth which essentially made him a “public figure.” Roughly 20 years later after Sidis became a public figure, it was reported that he worked as a clerk. After discovering this information, the New Yorker wrote an article about Sidis’ life and what he had become. Sidis sought to receive a settlement for damages caused by the New Yorker invaded his privacy and reported libelous information about him.
Question: Did the New Yorker invade Sidis’ privacy by publishing a story on him?
Decision: The New York Federal Appeals Court ruled that the New Yorker did not invade Sidis’ privacy because he was considered a public figure.
Ruling: The ruling was regardless of whether an individual maintains the same type of lifestyle he or she maintained at the time of being considered a public figure was irrelevant. Once a public figure, he is always a public figure. The court also ruled that public figures are entitled to less privacy than the average citizen; therefore the happenings that occur within their everyday lives may not be private.
Wilson v. Layne (98-83) 526 U.S. 603(1999)
Basic Facts: In 1992, Dominic Wilson had three arrest warrants issued for his arrest in the state of Maryland, for probation violations. Federal Marshals along with Sheriff’s Deputies went to the address that they obtained from computers for Dominic Wilson.
What the computer address did not indicated was that this was also the parents address. The Law Enforcement Officials invited a reporter from the Washington Post along wit a Photographer to accompany them on the scene with the warrant to make the arrest. After entering the home, The Law Officers were confronted by the Father Charles Wilson asking for an explanation of what they were doing entering his home.
The Officers proceeded to apprehend Charles Wilson by taking him to the ground and handcuffing him. The Wife, Geraldine Wilson enters during the commotion and is still in her night gown. The intrusion was around 6:45 a.m. when the warrant was attempted. Once establishment that Dominic Wilson was not on the premises, the Law Enforcement Officials left with the Washington Post Media. The photographs that were taken were never published but the Wilson’s filed suit against the officials citing their Fourth Amendment Rights were violated, by bringing the media inside their home.
The courts agreed that the Law Enforcement Officials should not have brought the Reporter and Photographer along or as a “ride along” when issuing the warrant for the arrest of Dominic Wilson. There was not viable reason for them to accompany or serve any need to document the arrest being made. However, the court also stated that since no real guidelines were in place for this situation. Case by case basis will be the general rule in this area. The Wilson’s suit was filed and they did win the case but, the monetary damages they sought were not awarded. The Police Officials did lose the case but were not ordered to pay damages.
Chief Justice Rehnquist did point out that the officers didn’t know how the outcome of this case would end up. They tried to justify that they were only trying to show that they were on top of their jobs, trying to combat crime and enforce the law using the media.
Question: Are there situations where Media can be brought in to cover or document an arrest or warrant being served? In a case where it is necessary to insure proof of procedural arrest: If the only way to insure policy is being followed, the Judge could possibly include the media being included as necessary to insure the warrant being served for someone’s arrest. Generally, this would be the case for a procedural warrant.
Decision: (8-1) for Layne. The court decision was unanimous. Justice Rehnquist rejected the opinion of the Police that media was invited to show them being tough on crime and to publicize the Government’s efforts. He
Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. 501 U.S. 663
Basic Facts: Dan Cohen, a staffer for the Minnesotan Republican gubernatorial candidate in 1982, provided negative information about Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Marlene Johnson to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on the condition that his identity not be revealed. When it came time to run the story, though, the paper’s editor went over the reporter’s head and ran Cohen’s name anyway, which led to him losing his job with his advertising agency. Cohen sued, and the jury found in his favor, awarding him $200,000. However, when the case went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, they reversed the decision. Finally, the case ended up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Question: Did the paper’s decision to run Cohen’s name amount to a promissory estoppel, a kind of breach of contract, constituting a valid claim to award him damages?
Decision: Once again, the case was decided narrowly, by a 5-4 margin, which resulted in the case being remanded to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Based on Minnesota law, the Court decided, the newspaper had violated the promissory estoppel doctrine, and Cohen deserved to have his case reheard at the state level.
Ruling: “The Minnesota Supreme Court’s incorrect conclusion that the First Amendment barred Cohen’s claim may well have truncated its consideration of whether a promissory estoppel claim had otherwise been established under Minnesota law, and whether Cohen’s jury verdict could be upheld on a promissory estoppel basis. Or perhaps the State Constitution may be construed to shield the press from a promissory estoppel cause of action such as this one. These are matters for the Minnesota Supreme Court to address and resolve in the first instance on remand. Accordingly, the judgment of the Minnesota Supreme Court is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”
–JUSTICE WHITE, OPINION OF THE COURT
“Because I believe the State’s interest in enforcing a newspaper’s promise of confidentiality insufficient to outweigh the interest in unfettered publication of the information revealed in this case, I respectfully dissent.”
—JUSTICE BLACKMAN IN DISSENT, JOINED BY JUSTICES SOUTER AND MARSHALL
The case of Dietemann v Time is a case of invasion of privacy. Life magazine was doing an investigation for their magazine on supposed “quack doctors” that were practicing medicine illegally. The investigator would pretend to be a patient and then go into the alleged doctors office undercover with audio and camera equipment hidden. This would record evidence that showed the doctors were in fact not licensed physicians and then they would write about it.
Dietemann was one of these doctors that practiced medicine in the den of his home. An undercover patient went into his home and was hooked up with audio that was being transmitted to a police car outside the home. This foiled his operation and he was ousted as a fraud.
Does someone have a right to an expected place of solitude where no one will unlawfully invade their space to gather info or other material against their will? Did Time invade his space?
He sued Life magazine saying that the hidden electronics were an invasion of his privacy.
The court did not agree that hidden mechanical devices were “indispensible tools” of newsgathering here even though the 1st Amendment covers news gathering. The Court came to the conclusion that “The First Amendment is not a license to trespass, to steal or to intrude by electronic means into the precincts of another’s home or office.”
Dietemann won the case on electronic intrusion and was awarded $1000. His den was an expected place of solitude.
The Dietemann Decision modified the concept of freedom of press in two ways.
1) “The First Amendment gives the media no right to break the law with impunity, even if
legitimate news is being pursued”.
2) Reporters are not protected by the First Amendment when they commit crimes or torts.
Dan Moldea was an author and an investigative journalist that sued the New York Times over a libel case. He claimed that the New York Times libeled him in their Times Review which talked about his book that had just been released, Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football. The paper said that the book had a lot of sloppy journalism and then proceeded to give several examples of how. He was mad that this might affect the sale of his book an thusly sued them for it.
Do journalist have libel immunity when writing opinion matter or critiquing a work of art?
The district court granted a summary judgment in the favor of the New York Times. The Court said that the comments were not actionable under the law because they were just the opinion of the one writer that wrote the opinion article in the Times Review.
But in a bizarre turn of events the Court reversed their decision by 2-1 and decided that some of the comments were in fact actionable because they could be verified. This turned the ruling in favor of Moldea. The New York Times filed an appeal with the court for the case to be reconsidered again because of the nature of the case.
The Court then reheard the case and ruled for the New York Times. This whole case goes back and forth and seemed to be a shamble of a case. They said that the genre in which the opinion was written is a place where readers expected a “spirited critiques” thus making it not libelous. The Court then claimed that “While there is no per se exemption from defamation for book reviews, our initial resolution of this case applied an inappropriate standard to judge whether the Times review was actionable.” So in the end they ruled in favor of the paper and said that the interpretations of the review were fair.
Since the court finally ruled in the favor of the New York Times it didn’t have to pay Moldea anything since they were not found guilty of libel.
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Basic Facts: Based on information from an informant, Secret Service agents went to the home of Babtunde Ayeni to search for evidence of his involvement in credit card fraud. Upon arrival, the agents announced they were the police and entered the residence without a warrant. Ayeni’s wife and child were the only occupants present at the time. When asked to produce a warrant, Mrs. Ayeni was told that the warrant was on its way with another agent. Later, Special Agent Mottola arrived with the warrant, other agents, and a three-person camera crew from CBS’s “Street Stories”. Mrs. Ayeni repeatedly asked why there was a camera crew and requested that they not tape her or her son. No evidence was found that implicated Mr. Ayeni in the fraud. However, eventually criminal charges were filed against Mr. Ayeni and others. During pre-trial discovery, Mr. Ayeni’s defense subpoenaed the video tape of the search from CBS. CBS refused to release the tape on First Admendment grounds. The district judge ruled that CBS had to turn over the tape because Ayeni’s constitutional right to a fair trail outweighed the qualified privilege to gather the news afforded to CBS under the First Amendment.
Subsequently, Mrs. Ayeni and her son filed a civil suit against agent Mottola and CBS. Mottola motioned for a summary judgement based on a claim of qualified immunity because of his status as a federal agent. CBS also claimed qualified immunity as their defense based on having the permission of agent Mottola to be present at the search. CBS did not make any First Amendment claims.
Question: Does a television news crew enjoy qualified immunity from a lawsuit if they are present with law enforcement during a warranted search if they have the permission of the law enforcement agents?
Decision: The district court refused to grant summary judgement for the defendants. CBS reached a confidential settlement with the plantiffs. Agent Mottola appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court which upheld the district court. The Supreme Court refused to review the case. The case was never tried on its merits.
Ruling: Distric court Judge Weinstein stated that videotaping inside the home of the Ayeni’s constituted an illegal “seizure” and violated their 4th Amendment rights. He also wrote that, “the First Amendment is a shield not a sword”. And that CBS had “no greater right than that of a thief to be in the home to ‘capture’ the scene of the search on film and to remove the photographic record..the televison tape was a seizure of private property, information, for non-governmental purposes”.
Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153 (1986)
Basic Facts: Retired U.S. Army officer Anthony Herbert was a Vietnam veteran who publicly accused his army superiors of war crimes and atrocities. The claims were the topic of a broadcast by Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS), which was written by Barry Lando and narrated by Mike Wallace. After the program aired, Herbert filed a defamation lawsuit alleging that he has been falsely and maliciously portrayed as a liar who created the charges as an excuse to leave the military. Herbert’s attorney attempted to get statements from employees at CBS, but they refused based on First Amendment grounds. The attorney then filed a motion to compel the employees to testify which was granted by the district court. On appeal, the decision was reversed by a split court of appeals, and the case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Question: The question before the Court was whether a plaintiff in a libel suit has the right to inquire into the editorial process and into the state of mind of those producing the materials in order to meet the plaintiff’s burden of proving “actual malice.”
Decision: The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision reversed the court of appeals decision and reinstated the original decision of the district court. The Court found that defendants do not have the right to First Amendment protection of information that would bar a plaintiff from gaining information about the alleged libel by inquiring into the editorial process or the state of minds of those involved. However, the Court found that is only the case if the inquiry is necessary to meet the plaintiff’s burden of proof and was narrowly tailored to produce the evidence needed.
Ruling: The Court held, “When a member of the press is alleged to have circulated damaging falsehoods and is sued for injury to the plaintiff’s reputation, there is no privilege under the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press barring the plaintiff from inquiring into the editorial processes of those responsible for the publication where the inquiry will produce evidence material to the proof of a critical element of the plaintiff’s cause of action.” In the opinion of the Court, Justice White added that the court of appeals had been wrong in believing that an absolute privilege to the editorial process had been established by the Court in previous cases. Instead, such a privilege would hurt the plaintiff’s ability to prove actual malice. “Creating a constitutional privilege foreclosing direct inquiry into the editorial process would not cure the press’ problem as to escalating costs and other burdens incident to defamation litigation. Only complete immunity from liability for defamation would effect this result, and this Court has regularly found this to be an untenable construction of the First Amendment.”
— JUSTICE WHITE, The Opinion of the Court
- BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part.
- STEWART, J., and MARSHALL, J., filed dissenting opinions.
- Both of the dissents argued against an overly-broad discovery by plaintiffs in defamation cases. Brennan advocated adoption of a “qualified” privilege so that plaintiffs in defamation suits could make such inquiries only after meeting a burden of proof that the publication represented a prima facie (or first appearance) defamatory falsehood.
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d. 147 (1973)
Basic Facts: The case of Roe v. Wade was a class action lawsuit filed by a pregnant single woman named Roe (Norma L. McCorvey) who challenged the constitutionality of the Texas criminal abortion laws. Under the state law, women were only able to have an abortion if it was for the purpose of saving the mother’s life. A licensed physician (James Hallford) who was facing two prosecutions for performing abortions joined the suit. In addition, a childless couple (named the Does in the suit) joined the lawsuit. The lawsuit in the case of Roe was upheld by the District Court which ruled that declaratory relief was warranted and declaring the law void because of its vagueness and because it infringed on the plaintiff’s Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. When the case got to the Supreme Court, the higher court ruled that Roe was the only plaintiff with a legitimate claim, so Hallford and the Does were dismissed from the case. Roe primary claim was that she was unable to travel to another state and that her First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the state law.
Question: Is it the constitutional right of women for abortion to be legal during at least some portion of pregnancy? In addition, what constitutional rights do developing embryos and fetuses have (if any)? More specifically, did the Texas law declaring abortion illegal unless it was deemed necessary to save the mother’s life infringe on citizens’ Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights?
Decision: The Court ruled that women do have a right to an abortion during at least a portion of pregnancy and set the trimester of pregnancy as the measurement mark. So, the Court found that in the first trimester of pregnancy, the state can not place restrictions on women’s access to abortion. In the second trimester, the state is allowed to regulate the abortion procedure in “ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.” While, the state has the right to restrict or ban abortion as it sees fit when the fetus is in the third trimester or “viable.” The Court’s conclusions were based on citizens’ constitutional right to privacy that is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment (the due process clause).
Ruling: The Court found abortion to be a fundamental right under the Constitution, and the opinion, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, did not follow the Ninth Amendment rationale of the District Court. Instead, Blackmun asserted that privacy “whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” One important aspect of the ruling was the fact that the Court denied the appellant’s claim that the entire case should be considered “moot” since Roe already had given birth to the child.
“The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation.”
– JUSTICE BLACKMUN, Opinion of the Court
* Justices Byron R. White and William H. Rehnquist dissented, with White writing, “I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment.” Asserting that he might agree with the Court’s priorities, he argued that he saw “no constitutional warrant for imposing such an order of priorities on the people and legislatures of the States.” Rehnquist agreed with White, writing “To reach its result, the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment … By the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, there were at least 36 laws enacted by the state or territorial legislatures limiting abortion. While many States have amended or updated their laws, 21 of the laws on the books in 1868 remain in effect today.” So, he concluded that from a historical perspective, that since there was no question about the validity of the state laws when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, one must conclude that the “drafters did not intend to have the Fourteenth Amendment withdraw from the States the power to legislate with respect to this matter.”
Florida v. Globe Communications Corp., 648 So.2d 110 (Fla. 1994)
Basic Facts: Globe Communications Corp. was charged with two counts of printing in the form of mass communication the name, photograph or other identifying facts or information about the victim of a sexual offense, which violated a Florida state law. The charges were a result of the identification of the victim of a 1991 rape. In reporting the story about the alleged suspect William Kennedy Smith, the Globe twice identified the woman’s name and other features. The Globe obtained the information lawfully, and at least four British newspapers had identified the victim before the Globe’s stories on the crime. The Globe filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming the law violated the organization’s First Amendment right to free speech and press. The trial court accepted both arguments and dismissed the information. On appeal, the district court affirmed the decision. The state supreme court used the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Florida Star v. B.J.F. to support their opinion that the law was unconstitutional because it was “overbroad” and it punished only media publications and not acts by a private person.
Question: Did the state law banning the publication of certain information violate the First Amendment right to free speech and press?
Decision: Using the standard adopted in the Florida Star v. B.F.J. case, the state Court held that “if a newspaper lawfully obtains truthful information about a matter of public significance then state officials may not constitutionally punish publication of the information, absent a need to further a state interest of the highest order.” Therefore, the Court found the law unconstitutional. The decision was important because it sided with the press in the matter of free speech versus privacy. In addition, the Court recognized a “facial underinclusiveness” in the Florida law that raised doubts about whether or not it served significant state interests.
Ruling: The Court agreed with the trial and district court that the Florida law banning the publication of identifying characteristics of the victim of a sexual offense was overly broad and did not serve any significant interest on the part of the state. “We agree with the trial and district court below that the ‘broad sweep’ and ‘underinclusiveness’ of section 794.03 are even more troublesome when the statute is used to mandate criminal sanctions. In an attempt to avoid the obvious conclusion that these facial defects render the statute invalid under both the First Amendment and article I, section 4 of the Florida Constitution.” In addition, the Court rejected a request by the state that the Court rewrite the law, although Kogan admits that “whenever possible we will construe a statute so as not to conflict with the Constitution.” However, the Court does leave the door open for the state to rewrite the law, saying, “although we decline to rewrite section 794.03 to correct the defects outlined in Florida Star,” we do not rule out the possibility that the legislature could fashion a statute that would pass constitutional muster.”
—JUSTICE KOGAN, Opinion of the Court
*JUSTICES GRIMES, SHAW, HARDING and WELLS concurring. OVERTON concurring in result only.
- Press Enterprise II
- Sidis v. F.R. Publishing Co. (1940)
- Wilson v. Layne Brief
- Cohen v. Cowles
- Dietemann v. Time, Inc. (1971)
- Moldea v. New York Times (1994)
- Ayeni v. CBS (1994)
- Herbert v. Lando (1986)
- Roe v. Wade (1973)
- Florida v. Globe Communications Corp., 648 So.2d 110 (Fla. 1994)
- Bartnicki v. Vopper (2001)
- Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Co. (1974)